MADRID (AP) — Thousands of people demonstrated against the Spanish monarchy Sunday, demanding the return of a democratically elected head of state, another blow for embattled King Juan Carlos.
The marchers thronged Puerta del Sol, a central square in the capital, on the 82nd anniversary of the establishment of Spain's last democratically-elected republic, which was overthrown by an army uprising that led to a civil war and the 36-year military dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco.
Franco appointed then Prince Juan Carlos as his successor as head of state, a job the royal took over as king upon the dictator's death in 1975.
The monarchy's popularity has slumped in recent months, with the 75-year-old king being criticized for going on a luxurious safari during Spain's financial crisis and a corruption scandal with links to royal family members.
"This monarchy was imposed on us by the dictatorship, therefore we consider it to be illegal," 45-year-old teacher Maria Ayuso said. "Also, we consider it anachronistic to have a non-elected head of state; it's not democratic."
For decades, the king was largely admired for having shepherded Spain from dictatorship to a modern democracy, with many citing his role in adroitly getting the participants in an attempted military coup in February 1981 to stand down peacefully as a highlight in his career.
But things began to go awry when he broke his hip while on a previously unannounced elephant hunting trip in Botswana even though it was widely known he was president of the Spanish branch of the World Wildlife Fund. The king had to be flown back to Spain aboard a private jet for hospital treatment.
In an unprecedented act of royal contrition, Juan Carlos apologized, saying as he left the hospital: "I am very sorry. I made a mistake. It won't happen again."
Matters got worse when the king's daughter, Princess Cristina, was named as an official suspect in an alleged plot to embezzle public money.
The investigation centers on whether the 47-year-old princess' husband, Inaki Urdangarin, and his former business partner took advantage with her knowledge of their royal connections to funnel about 5 million euros ($6.4 million) in public funds, using companies and an allegedly non-profit institute they ran.
Neither Cristina nor Urdangarin have been charged, but both have been called to testify before an investigating magistrate. Urdangarin has appeared in court twice and the princess has been subpoenaed to attend, pending an appeal.
Cristina's court summons is a first for a member of the king's immediate family.